In the first meeting of the cabinet at Newcastle Borough Council since the recent announcement from the Environment Agency, councillors have formally endorsed the call for a public inquiry.
Two weeks ago the EA announced that a technical issue with the monitoring devices positioned around ‘smelly’ Walleys Quarry meant that hydrogen sulphide (H2S) gas levels were being under reported. Since then a number of councils have called for a public inquiry and an NHS health line has been set up for residents due to their concerns.
However, the cabinet has endorsed the call for a public inquiry. With one cabinet member calling for heads to roll in the wake for the revelations.
Councillor Andy Fear, Cabinet member for Strategic Planning said: “What can one say at the end of the day, I very much welcome this call for a public inquiry. The letter says that what has happened is both shocking and appalling, I’m happy to agree with that; I would also add the work contemptible myself.
“We therefore have to rely on people to do their job properly, frankly put my personal view, I don’t know if it’s shared by colleagues, if they were men of honour here there would be some resignations. I am just absolutely gobsmacked by what has happened and my personal view is that heads should roll”
Deputy Leader Stephen Sweeney added: “The worst thing about it is I’m not really surprised. Our dealings with the EA have been so bad that this is just the icing on the cake; for me to stand up and seriously say I’m really not surprised is a terrible indictment on the way the EA works.
Despite the cold weather in the past week there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in the number of complaints. On Friday and Saturday there was just one complaint, which increased to six on Monday.
The leader of the council, Simon Tagg assured residents that the recent revelation does not impact the abatement notice process. He said: “When we did our abatement notice process, if we were to move forward with that in the future we would be taking more than just one source of information. We take our own monitoring equipment and anything that the EA could provide as well as a whole breath to enable us to take forward any processes that we have as a council.
The Borough Council’s chief executive told councillors that despite the recent news the one consistent data set they have is complaint data submitted to the council and the EA and this data still shows a downwards trend. Previous data showed a link between the number of complaints and the levels of hydrogen sulphide.
Councillor Tagg continued: “We are now entering this colder period and I’ve seen, particularly on social media, claims of increased odours. I would ask the public to continue to report them to the borough council through the online system or to the EA through their systems because that is one of the key methods still in place and we can say those reports which are coming in are fairly accurate to the spikes we’ve had.”
A Walleys Quarry spokesman has previously said: “We await further information from the EA to allow to us to better understand the full implications of this development. The statement made by the EA does not detract from the work WQL has been undertaking which has seen significant reductions in reporting complaints attributed to the site and its operations.”